Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes into the Bucket?

By Victor E. Smith

 This series first appeared on the no longer available Fiction for a New Age website in 2013 and is republished here in its original form. The author has included some of this material in other later posts on this site; and, indeed, several of them have already developed into reality. But a look back as nostalgia or review seems in order. 

Click this link to read or review Part One: The Bucket.

 

Word BucketLet’s suppose, as projected in Part 1 of this series, “The Bucket,” that Visionary Fiction has become as prominent a genre label as Science Fiction or Mystery.  Now let’s consider the ingredients writers must put into a work to have it qualify for the Visionary Fiction bucket and what experiences or benefits readers can expect in a work pulled out of that bucket.

For sure, arguments over some elements have been raging for decades and will go on for decades more. Ours is a quantum world where everything has something of just about every other thing; but some things have more in common than others. So here we will examine the essential components, leaving the optional and controversial items for later discussion.

Well-written Fiction

In The Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success, Mark Coker states as Secret # 1: “Write a great book.” Almost too obvious a point to deserve mention. Regrettably, Visionary Fiction and similar genres have attracted a disproportionate number of authors, many from other professions, with brilliant ideas but inferior writing skills, thus forcing readers to wade through a bin of subpar products before finding something worthwhile. A few VF works with glaring deficiencies in standard fictional practice, like James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy, propelled perhaps by novelty, did rocket up the best-seller lists, thus misleading aspiring authors to assume that a sublime message will trump amateur writing. All elements of good fiction—language, plot, character, setting, imagery, etc.—remain prerequisites in VF. Rules, of course, can be consciously broken, the operative word being “consciously.”

In “The Puzzle of Visionary Fiction,” Hal Zina Bennet makes several points pertinent to crafting quality visionary fiction: “What happens in most visionary fiction that I’ve read over the years is that it gets burdened down by the author’s desire to get readers to believe what he or she believes. Characters disappear in the author’s message, which is another way of saying that they are two-dimensional, thinly disguised vehicles that simply recite the author’s beliefs. An engaging story is simply lacking and the writing never quite brings readers into that place of wonder, fear, discovery, which might transcend simple belief systems. We try to reproduce our own spiritual experiences on the page rather than giving readers what they need to have that experience for themselves.”

Growth in Consciousness

Author Michael Gurian’s opening line on his pioneering VF website is: “Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” The first characteristic of VF according to the Visionary Fiction Alliance: “Growth in consciousness is the central theme of the story and drives the protagonist, and/or other important characters.” In “The Altered State of Visionary Fiction,” Monty Joynes writes: “For me, the Visionary Fiction genre includes novels that deal with shifts in awareness that result in metaphysical understanding by the central characters.  The plot of the novel is generally more concerned with internal experiences than with external.” All the commentators I consulted on the basic nature of VF agree that expansion of the mind or growth in consciousness is the hallmark of Visionary Fiction.

In any credible story the characters must change, but in VF this change is from the inside out rather than from outside in. The reader sits in the co-pilot’s chair and gets to mind-read the pilot’s thoughts, intentions and decisions as they occur. He witnesses how the protagonist’s thinking influences external outcomes and how he adjusts to respond to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Growth in consciousness dictates that Visionary Fiction be optimistic. In materially-based stories, birth inevitably results in death. In VF, birth begets rebirth at a higher level. Mind/consciousness development is the make-break ingredient in Visionary fiction. If it’s missing, it’s not visionary fiction—that simple.

The Reader Shares the Growth Experience

In “The Article that started it all,” author Jodine Turner writes: “Visionary Fiction is like the legendary Celtic Imram [the mythical heroes’ quest]. The drama and tension of the characters’ adventures is one layer of the tale. All of the usual elements of suspense, conflict, even romance and mystery, are interwoven in the plot. The other layer, deeper and more archetypal, is that mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening. In Visionary Fiction, esoteric wisdom is embedded in story so that the reader can actually experience it, instead of merely learning about it.”

And author Margaret Duarte seconds this notion: “What separates VF from other speculative fiction is intention.  Besides telling a good story, VF enlightens and encourages readers to expand their awareness of greater possibilities.”

The reader is not only in the cockpit with access to the pilot’s thoughts; she is enticed to think along with him, then grab hold of the controls, and do some flying herself. This element, engineered into the work, is perhaps VF’s most innovative, and also its most difficult to achieve. It renders the reading experience interactive. The most gratifying comments on my own VF work, The Anathemas, a novel about reincarnation, came from readers who said that my book helped them to see how past life experiences influence them today; and yet the book contains no regression technique per se; they had to learn through the story’s characters.

We have progressed beyond where readers can just be told (the authority paradigm); give them the bare essentials and then invite them to try it (the Gnostic or experiential model). The best VF is multi-layered to suit readers at different awareness levels. A bonus: rereading such well-constructed books yield a whole different experience the second time through.

The Spiritual Component

When we speak of thoughts, ideas, visualization, consciousness, and internal growth we are, like it or not, in the spiritual (non-material, by definition) realm rather than in the physical or empirical. The quotes above contain phrases like “metaphysical understanding” and “mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening.” The VF Alliance definition of VF states: “[It] embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant for our modern life.”

Although it was not always so, the difference between religion and spirituality is now established. Religion refers to a specific set of beliefs and practices agreed upon by a group of people; fiction specific to such a community is Religious Fiction. Spirituality is universal in embrace; consciousness, thought, visualization, and change are common to all human beings.   Because, as put by the VFA, Visionary Fiction “is universal in its worldview and scope,” it is the genre proper to spirituality. It should ring as true to a Catholic as to a Buddhist, to a woman as to a man, to a heterosexual as to a homosexual, to an American as to a Polynesian. A tall order but an excellent acid test, and apropos for this age of entrenched dichotomy.

What of fiction that centers on single issues, even if from a spiritual viewpoint: recovery, women’s’ rights, political reform? Since many such topics fall into already established categories and lack the universal ingredient, they would not qualify as VF. We are looking to house orphans, not steal other people’s kids.

Ahearn

Visionary Fictions
by Edward Ahearn

Just because VF has a spiritual focus does not mean it is “all sweetness and light.”  As taught in Composition 101, every story requires conflict. Professor Edward Ahearn sees VF as the strident voice of protest against the stagnant status quo. Visionary writers, he says in Visionary Fictions: Apocalyptic Writing from Blake to the Modern Age (2011), seek a personal way to explode the normal experience of the “real,” using prophetic visions, fantastic tales, insane rantings, surrealistic dreams, and drug- or sex-induced dislocations in their work. Their fiction expresses rebellion against all the values of Western civilization—personal, sexual, familial, religious, moral, societal, and political. Ahearn’s “shock and awe” style of VF may be extreme, but a touch of it might prove the antidote against VF’s otherwise Milquetoast reputation.

To conclude on this vital spiritual component, we call on author Theresa Nash, who says in “How I Use Visionary Fiction And It Uses Me”:  “Visionary Fiction is about breaking the rules. It’s about remembering that we write our own stories. The true function of our stories is enabling a harmony between our condition and the Divine. They should inspire us to live our best lives, provide signposts on the journey. They should help us burst through the self-imposed bubble of our human potential to possibilities we can only imagine when we’re mired in chaos, conflict, and survival.”

Paranormal Perceptions

The word visionary implies the ability to see beyond what can be viewed with physical sight. Growth in human consciousness demands that we transcend the five senses when assigning validity to an experience. Thus Monty Joynes can say about VF: “The work is also ‘visionary’ in the aspect that the authors sometimes (or often) employ non-rational means such as dreams or extrasensory perceptions to develop the content of the book.”

Michael Gurian is more emphatic about this element, saying that in VF such extraordinary phenomena “not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e. without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” The VFA holds that VF “oftentimes uses reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices.” In “Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth,” Hal Zina Bennett sums it up quite poetically: “Like a shaman’s stories of the spirit world, where the spirits of animals, trees, sky, or the stars teach us how to live, visionary fiction introduces us to a reality beyond physical reality. They often carry us deep into a consciousness once thought to be the domain of seers, visionaries, oracles and psychics. The magic of this genre is the magic of human consciousness itself, our ability to see beneath the surface and create new visions of what our lives can be.”

While clumsy or exaggerated use of dreams, ghosts, telekinesis or conversations with angels can make a story far-fetched or laughable, supersensory perceptions, used by a writer who has properly studied, experienced, or intuited such phenomena, will blend into the story and move it forward as naturally as an unexpected phone call or unwelcome guest would do in a non-VF tale.

The presence of a paranormal device does not make fiction automatically visionary. A detective story in which a mentalist solves the crime would only be visionary if it probed the mind of the psychic and demonstrated how his gift leads to a higher state of consciousness. On the other hand, certain literary forms like myths, fairy tales, and talking animal stories, which are generally categorized as Fantasy (wholly contrived), should not be summarily exorcised from VF; think Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Conclusion

Love BucketVisionary Fiction is still in the “becoming” stage, still emerging as a genre distinct from its various venerable ancestors (Science Fiction, Fantasy or Religious Fiction). Although driven by the current human imperative to evolve mentally and spiritually, this genre still begs for more structure as an art form and a larger niche in the marketplace in which to house its burgeoning creative activity.

In “Part One: the Bucket,” we argued to establish a single brand name, perfect or not: Visionary Fiction.

This piece aims to initiate a vigorous buzz around the characteristics of Visionary Fiction.  My research for the above was extensive but not exhaustive; the writers and quotes were intentionally selected but not all-inclusive; the elements cited are promontories but not the whole terrain. I made approximations designed to stimulate discussion and foster general agreement among VF writers and readers so as to stimulate an impressive surge in production and demand for quality Visionary Fiction.

In “Part 3: Visionary Fiction, the Action Plan,” we will examine practical ways the VF community can position the Visionary Fiction bucket, now chockfull of goodies in high demand, so that authors will make frequent deposits with confidence in a vibrant marketplace and readers will make regular withdrawals with a transforming experience guaranteed.

 

Next: Visionary Fiction Part Three: Action Plan

 

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About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
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30 Responses to Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes into the Bucket?

  1. reanolanmartin says:

    Really lovely, victor. I do think it will be difficult to 'gatekeep' works of fiction that claim to be visionary but are not. The elements that make a work visionary may only be clear and obvious to the visionary. This will likely make it a muddy paying field for a while, but blogs like this help to define the parameters.

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  2. esdragon2 says:

    Just one thought – and I haven't finished reading every sentence of your piece right through to the end yet, Vic, — but how many V.F writers actually trouble to engage a good, professional editor? An editor worth his/her salt pulls up the writer to point out sloppily written, inconsistent, two-dimensional characters. An editor argues his/her case with the writer, and gets them clarify their purpose; does their story inspire the reader, transform consciousness?

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    • Worth discussing. Seems the days are gone when the publishing process provided the luxury of a good editor. Have to believe that many excellent stories don't make it all the way for lack of those final passes that make a novel shine. Finances? Perhaps a new occupation, editing on consignment or something like it, needs to emerge in today's self publishing paradigm.

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      • esdragon2 says:

        Yes Vic, it's so easy these days to self publish, and finding the finances for a good editor – not so easy! And many people these days want your book for next to nothing, not realising or caring how much work has gone into it. I.e. I brought out an updated version of my book, "This Strange and Precious Thing' with a new cover and also tightened up some of the text in a few places, as well as going to the length of engaging a new editor. I felt this had greatly improved the way the story was paced. OK, 90% of the novel was fine, and full of dramatic tension, opening up new dimensions and unknown possibilities where Time as we know it is transformed and becomes magical. But the last few touches I gave it were important.

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  3. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Love the concept that the internal visions and metaphysics drive the plot. Since I write literary fiction, the stories are character-driven anyway, so this is not that grand a step. But there are other methods that may be offered to keep from being preachy. My novel, The Mourning After, is based on reincarnation, but hints and alternative interpretations are threaded so carefully throughout that the reader figures this out long before the narrator does. He is home-schooled, sees things, but having no friends he doesn't know that this isn't normal. What he sees could be ghosts, past-life memories, or imaginary playmates. – Indirectly and experientially sneaking up on metaphysical teachings without directly spelling them out helps to spur the readers' growth into new levels of awareness without them knowing they're doing more than merely losing themselves in a spell-binding tale.

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  4. As usual, Vic, you have added to my reading list. Thanks! I love the idea that the readers need to be led by the book to have the experience for themselves.

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    • I'm glad you picked up on the interactive nature of the visionary novel. Something I've been experimenting with, a way to make reading as engrossing as a video game. Now there's a wide open field for us to play in. Wonder if Jacklyn Lo or some of the "youngsters" have a bent in that direction.

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  5. philipparees says:

    I thought this an excellent analysis- not proscriptive, but inclusive. As a writer of visionary 'non-fiction' ( not that many scientists would agree to that claim) the most telling cross over was in trying to offer the experience itself, rather than the theoretical implications.
    Because such experiences, whether through dreams, or psychic phenomena are essentially individual and co-ordinated only within the awareness of the individual who has them, this element would seem critical- to provide such convincing and integrated characters that THEIR experiences are ( in the context) credible, and thereby imply the universal and transformative.

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    • esdragon2 says:

      So interesting that you label yourself 'non-fiction'. Are you from a scientific background? One of my 4 books, 'Dreaming Worlds Awake,' is also non-fiction — but with a difference.

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      • philipparees says:

        A broadly scientific background that led me to write Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God in what has been termed 'symphonic prose'. Essentially it is retaking the scientific journey to demonstrate its assertion that science has been the recovery of encoded memory through moments of visionary intuitions by genius that were then proved valid through observation and experimentation. This 'emptying of the bucket of evolutionary memory into the intellect of science caused the separation of mind and body, or Man and God. You can get a pretty comprehensive impression of the book (excerpts, reviews et al) on the website http://involution-odyssey.com/.

        From your title I suspect we are not a million worlds apart!

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  6. esdragon2 says:

    You mention some very interesting people; Lazlo, Sheldrake, Koestler, etc. Most scientists I know of would dismiss them out of hand — scorn and ridicule. I attended a conference many years ago now, in Cambridge, called Science and Consciousness, (I think) and Lazlo sat at the same table in the dining room. I tried to talk to him but he was engrossed in a conversation already. And who am I? An art student interested in Consciousness! My little book is a Miscellany – true stories, correspondeces, including those with a master sculptor I once knew, but who died 50 years ago, plus stories of gods and goddesses, and wondrous animal beings.

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    • philipparees says:

      Thanks for investigating further. My rejection started 45 years ago with the first monograph called 'A Theory of Involution' and contempt has been my default encounter. Laszlo has been very supportive and Koestler was too but they are in the ascendant now, and patience I have learnt! That is the irony of it all- those wedded to an Institution are never those visited by the experiences that might change their minds! It applies equally to religious institutions as to scientific, and even the new scientists now marching to the Koestler and Alister Hardy banner. An artist interested in consciousness is far more likely a reader.

      That's why I started the 'trial of the book' on my blog- to expose this pattern and it has been ever thus.

      Will seek out your book.

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      • esdragon2 says:

        How true! Dreaming Worlds Awake however, although it's somewhere on Amazon, it's hard to find. If you are really interested to see it, I could send you a copy. Or you could buy it on lulu.com.

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  7. A few words in defense of James Redfield here, Vic. "The Celestine Prophecy" touched many, many readers (selling millions and millions of copes). In my view, Redfield's greatest offense, was that he tried to COMBINE nonfiction (which he does tremendously well in " Celestine Vision" – a favorite book of mine) and fiction. In other words, he tried to do something new! Yes, many of the elements of good fiction—language, plot, character, setting, imagery– are missing in "The Celestine Prophecy." But, and this is a big but, his work of fiction contains all of the characteristics you listed as characteristics of visionary fiction(Growth in Consciousness, Paranormal Perception, Spiritual Component), except for one (Reader Shares in the Growth Experience). As far as "well-written" is concerned, from a non-fiction standpoint, his work was well-edited and managed to be understood by his audience just fine. True, Redfield sacrificed character and plot development to message, but, in his case, it proved to be a successful move. Don't forget, he helped put visionary fiction on the map.

    I believe that one of the problems that occurred with later attempts at writing visionary fiction — and why many publishers got burned — is that too many authors tried to replicate Redfield's success in an inferior way, combining bad editing, bad storytelling, superficial messages, and in-your-face preaching in a way that turned off readers, and, as a result, publishers.

    Visionary non-fiction is tremendously popular these days, which proves that people are hungry for and open to the messages it provides. What we as visionary fiction writers need to do is "enlighten and encourage readers to expand their awareness of greater possibilities" by weaving our messages (behind the scenes, between the lines) within a great (professionally edited) story.

    The rest is up to the readers. And good marketing, which is what we at VFA are attempting to provide.

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    • I fully agree with your analysis of Redfield's importance to VF, Margaret; and the chiding tone of my observation is directed more at his imitators than at him. Since Celestine was debuting something very new, it had little competition, so a loss of style points didn't matter . What he said trumped the way he said it. Not the case once hundreds of authors are saying the same thing (and the key concepts of basic spirituality are indeed few and very simple) and they don't have to pass through those old-fashioned gate-keepers, the editors at the publishing house, to get their books posted or printed.

      In other words, the bar is now higher for VF authors to succeed, and I mean also financially. There's no way around the hard work involved in writing a really good book and then getting out there and promoting it. I know I learned that, and am still learning it, the hard way: trial and error. Our group sharing is meant to reduce both trial and error and keep this process creative fun. I hope that simple intent came through in the "Well written fiction" section of the article.

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  8. Thanks for the interest, Phillip. I live in one of the rare cities in the US (Tucson, AZ) where the scientific and education community, at least part of it, is openly engaged in the study of paranormal phenomena. Much credit due to Dr. Gary Schwartz and his department at the Univ. of AZ. Since paranormal research is considered legit here, we have many local events that feature such scientists. In my view, they do the grunt work in labs and analysis that I then use in my VF work to ground it either in proven fact or high probability.

    True scientific innovation, being change, is going to attract resistance. People like Schwartz, Lazlo, Sheldrake, Tipler and yourself are pioneers just as we are in VF. You sound like you are on the right track.

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    • philipparees says:

      My 'scientific innovation' ( as you called it) arose directly from a profound spiritual experience that wiped away everything I had accepted to that point. The 'scientific explanation' constructed in my book was a language through which to convey the implications of that experience.

      In short I was coming at science from the opposite direction!

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  9. I find Hal Zena Bennet's perspective – "We try to reproduce our own spiritual experiences on the page rather than giving readers what they need to have that experience for themselves.” – critical to VF. Not proselytizing, but engaging the reader in an internal and intimate way with the character's growth in consciousness such that it becomes the reader's own unique growth in consciousness. That can only happen with the element of a well honed craft. James Redfield's 'Celestine Prophecy' was an exception to well honed craft, as is already discussed – but then he touched an archetypal nerve in the masses who hunger for a soul nourishing read.

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  10. esdragon2 says:

    If I may I'd like to add one other name to that original list, (Lazlo, Sheldrake.Koestler etc.) and that one on James Lovelock. I find his theory of Gaia provides another very important element to the list of scientists who've had a great influence on our kind of writing, fiction and non-fiction. But regarding Redfield's Celesine Prophesy, what concerns me is when an author mixes scientific fact with 'fiction' in the sense that, (I'm only asking!) is he being completely reliable, honest and truthful, or wandering off the track in the interest of making it a good story? Or doesn't it matter?

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  11. libredux says:

    Victor, thanks for this excellent article. There are two things in particular that I am glad you have drawn attention to: first, that a meaningful component does not automatically mean that a VF work will be of a high quality from a literary point of view; and second, that a paranormal element does not make automatically mean that a work of fiction should be classed as VF.

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